Pandemic-Related Programming Surges on Netflix Amid Coronavirus Spread

Outbreak and Pandemic climb on Netflix's Top 10 lists as Contagion rises on iTunes

people in hazmat duits
The 1995 film Outbreak, about a fictional Ebola-like virus, is the No. 3 most-popular movie on Netflix today. Netflix

Key insights:

Around the country, out-of-home entertainment options like movie theaters, gyms, bars and restaurants have closed their doors in an attempt to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. As more people are choosing to stay home and practice social distancing, many are gravitating toward virus-related streaming content.

The 1995 film Outbreak, which follows the spread of a fictional Ebola-like virus and stars Dustin Hoffman, Morgan Freeman and Rene Russo, has been one of Netflix’s top 10 most popular movies in the U.S. since March 10. The film has climbed as high as No. 3 on the streaming service’s U.S. movie rankings, according to our ongoing tracking of Netflix’s Top 10 lists, which are updated daily. This morning, Outbreak was No. 7 among all of Netflix’s most-watched programs—both TV and movies—in the U.S.

Pandemic, a Netflix docuseries released two months ago, has also seen a spike in viewership, according to our tracking. The docuseries, which first appeared on the TV top 10 list on March 14, is as of today the No. 7 most-watched TV show on the service in the U.S.

The surge in interest for Outbreak and Pandemic comes as other pandemic-related programming sees spikes elsewhere. Contagion, the 2011 thriller from director Steven Soderbergh, has climbed the iTunes charts in recent weeks, and is as of Tuesday afternoon the second-most popular film on that service.

The audience rise in pandemic-related programming comes as the broadcast and streaming industries anticipate an increase in overall TV viewership, with more people confined to their homes amid business closures (which can also involve layoffs) and work-from-home requirements in some industries. Nielsen said Monday that television viewership jumped nearly 60% during past weather crises in the U.S. that kept people home and indoors.

Of course, Netflix audiences aren’t only watching pandemic-related programming as the coronavirus spreads. The streaming service’s original movie Spenser Confidential, an action comedy starring Mark Wahlberg and Winston Duke, has been in the first or second spots overall program since March 7, and Netflix’s reality series Love Is Blind has been among the top 4 overall programs on the service since Netflix first began releasing its Top 10 lists on Feb. 24.

Meanwhile, presumably younger Netflix viewers have been keeping the 2019 animated kids film The Angry Birds Movie 2 on the list since Feb. 28.

The Office, which will leave Netflix and head to to NBCUniversal’s upcoming streamer Peacock in 2021, has been among the top 10 TV series on the service nearly every day since February, but was pushed out as Pandemic grew in popularity.

Some streamers are looking to take advantage of consumers’ increased time at home while addressing concerns about the growing threat of the virus around the country. This morning, ViacomCBS released a PSA marketing campaign, #AloneTogether, to encourage people to practice social distancing to reduce the spread of the virus. And NBCUniversal’s film unit Universal Pictures announced it would make its current and upcoming films available for home rental, an extraordinary move aimed at continuing to make money from its new releases as theaters continue to close.

@kelseymsutton Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.